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Widespread pro-autonomous vehicle bias found across AV public acceptance studies

Researchers analyzed 91 peer-reviewed scientific studies on the public acceptance of AVs (autonomous vehicles, or self-driving cars). They found that a majority of these studies have a pro-AV bias in either their methodology or their sentiment.

Read it here: Empirical evidence of bias in public acceptance of autonomous vehicles.

Highlights

  • Disadvantaged groups barely were involved in public acceptance of AVs.
  • Sentiment bias is assessable in 65% of the AV studies.
  • Systematic errors exist in the surveys of public acceptance of AVs.
  • Existing research does not confirm the idealistic expectation of AVs advertised by media.

The studies in question survey public opinion about AVs, and their findings convey that people generally think that AVs will make our lives better. However, this paper demonstrates that those studies don’t necessarily paint an accurate picture. Many of their methods are flawed by using population samples that don’t represent society as a whole, or by using “proxy respondents” (i.e., asking people without disabilities if they believe AVs will help people with disabilities). They also use leading questions, such as asking if AVs will contribute to “less traffic” or “increased safety.”

Issues with the methods aside, it’s also important to put public opinion in context. The way people answer questions is reflective of the media and popular narrative that they consume, not on the reality of what AVs will actually do. Even when a majority of people believe that AVs will increase safety, that says very little about the actual safety of AVs.

But one of the most interesting findings is the sentiment bias of the papers themselves. In a vast majority of the articles, their analysis has a more positive sentiment than the actual results. It seems obvious that the researchers are personally interested in promoting AVs, regardless of their findings.

It’s worth remembering that our car-oriented status quo is a relatively new social aberration. Throughout history, our streets were used by pedestrians, horses, carriages, bicycles, trolleys, and cars alike until car manufacturers actively campaigned to drive everyone else out. It’s not a secret that AVs will make our streets even more dangerous to pedestrians and bicycles. Biased scientific research continues to be a tool to promote car dominance.